First Cup: Friday

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Here's how good the Thunder defense was: at halftime, the Thunder led 54-41, and the Spurs had four points in the paint. They finished with 24, but most of them in garbage time, after OKC had exploded to a 27-point lead. The Spurs had 92 paint points in the first two games. ... In Game 1, Brooks played Thabo almost 31 minutes but limited Serge Ibaka to 21 1/2 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, Thabo played just 15 minutes while Ibaka played almost 39. Brooks finally figured out, if you're going to stop a great offense, get your best defenders on the court as much as possible. So Ibaka played 30 minutes and Thabo 36 1/2, and neither was even needed the last five minutes of what became a runaway. And now the series has a whole new look. It's the Spurs' turn to adjust Saturday night, or this becomes a three-game series starting in San Antonio.

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: Apparently, rapper Lil Wayne wanted to come to the Thunder game and receive VIP treatment. Backdoor entrance. Front-row seat. The Thunder had no front-row seats available. “Was going to go to the Thunder game tonight but was denied by the team to be in their arena,” Lil Wayne tweeted. “Wow. Go Spurs.” Um, hey, buddy, get over yourself.

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: On a night when the boys in blue had to find a way to win to extend their season much beyond the weekend, they not only beat the Spurs but also changed the complexion of this series. They did it with defense. They did it with execution. But most of all, they did it with nasty. Thunder 102, Spurs 82.“We played better basketball,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That was the game plan going in — to play much better basketball.” Did better basketball mean nastier basketball? When asked the question in the postgame press conference, Brooks gave a wry smile. Hey, just because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told his guys that he wanted some nasty and it became a phenomenon in San Antonio doesn't mean they are the only ones who can get down and dirty. The Spurs don't have the corner on nasty. “It's important to play tough basketball,” Brooks said. “It's what we're about. We're built on toughness.” Well, actually, the Thunder is built on a trio of amazingly talented youngsters named Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. You aren't going to mistake these Thunder for the present-day Grizzlies or bad-boy Pistons. But still, these guys can bring the grit and the grind. And with their postseason hopes hanging in the balance, they brought it Thursday night.

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Getting embarrassed can be a good thing. All of it is new to the Spurs, who forgot how these things feel. But this wasn’t the streak of Wooden’s UCLA that was broken Thursday. It was an NBA streak, and they never last too long. They never last long, either, when the energy divide is as severe as it was. And something Scott Brooks said afterward told of that. “That was as well,” he said, “as you can play against the best team in basketball.” The best team in basketball? The Thunder wanted to prove that wasn’t true. ... I thought Thabo did a good job,” Brooks said, “but I thought the biggest adjustment — we played better.” It’s that simple? Sometimes, in the NBA, it is. At home, where they hadn’t lost this postseason, facing a 0-3 deficit if they had lost, shouldn’t the Thunder have been breathing fire? The Spurs couldn’t recreate that, no matter how many I-want-some-nasty speeches Popovich gave. And so now comes a telling moment in the series. The Spurs lost only one game, but it felt like more than that. The Thunder so swarmed them, so took them out of what they do, that the Spurs were emotionally slapped. This is what Popovich is leaning on: After Harden was staring and Patty playing, the energy for Game 4 should be equal.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: By blocking Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha’s driving layup attempt with 6:42 left in the third quarter of Thursday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, Spurs captain Tim Duncan became the career leader in playoff blocks. He finished the game with five, giving him 478 playoff rejections, two more than former leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Hall of Fame center for the Bucks and Lakers. That the career milestone came in a 102-82 loss took most of the meaning from the accomplishment. Duncan’s response was dripping with sarcasm. “Yes,” he said, in mock surprise. “Finally. Truly? That’s great.” Teammate Stephen Jackson said Duncan would appreciate the milestone soon enough. “He won’t enjoy it tonight,” Jackson said. “Wait until we get another win.”

  • David J. Neal of The Miami Herald: We’re near the epilogue of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, moments from the credit roll. So long as the Heat doesn’t play like it, that is. Game 3 on Friday in WhateverBank Garden will be Boston’s fourth game in seven days. The first was an emotionally draining Game 7 against Philadelphia. In Game 1 against the Heat, the Celtics looked stuck in the 1970s, both on the scoreboard and in age. This round’s schedule provides no break, no double off days for old Sizzlers to find their Juice Machine once more. They face the prospect of winning four of five from the Heat. Logic says they won’t, and it’s harder to believe in the illogical when you’re the Celtics’ age. ... The Celtics’ habit of resurrecting themselves like that other undead icon, Dracula, should concern the Heat into decisive action. Especially because, over on the other side, San Antonio went into Thursday night on a winning streak so long, I think a George Gervin finger roll started it. The Spurs will be well-rested for the NBA Finals. So, the Heat should enter Friday with the goal of putting bullets into Boston before the Celtics can twitch twice. Feed off the angry energy of a Boston crowd seeing its own latest Big 3 era end with only one title, silence it early and keep firing away. Acknowledge the funky calls that go against you on the road with a brief look without fussing, then move on with the killing.

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: In the recent history of athlete commercials, few were as clever or memorable as Charles Barkley and Dwyane Wade kibitzing on those catchy T-Mobile cell phone ads. Wade finally cracked Barkley's Fav Five, to the relief of much of America, but then immediately lost his spot after Barkley discovered Wade's nickname was "Pookie." Fast forward three years, and here’s my question: Why in the world does Barkley keep needling D-Wade? It’s one thing to criticize Wade for his horrendous Game 3 against Indiana, from which he has rebounded splendidly. But it’s quite another for Barkley to level puzzling shots at his former T-Mobile partner. ... Let’s be clear: Barkley shouldn’t speak favorably about Wade just because they worked together. And Wade wouldn’t expect that. But Barkley comes off as if he’s searching for something negative to say about him.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Gino Time, as it is known, is one of the grand parochial traditions of the NBA, something that would seem out of place anywhere but Boston, a city that somehow turned Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" – and its creepy "touching hands" chorus -- into a signature Red Sox celebration song. Whenever the Celtics are leading comfortably late at the TD Garden, the video screen shows a late 1970's "American Bandstand" clip that features the Bee Gees classic "You Should Be Dancing" and the boogying of one bearded man, wearing a tight "Gino" shirt in honor of singer Gino Vannelli. It's never good for an opponent to get to know Gino. It's hardly healthy to see him as much as the Heat has lately. And so, while the storyline of this series is the last dance of this proud incarnation of the Celtics, the reality is that - if the Heat's not careful - it could see Boston fans gyrating along to Gino again. Even if you ignore Miami's last visit, a regular-season finale loss in which Boston's Paul Pierce was the only star on either side to play, the record still reads 1-4 during the Heat's own "Big 3" era. And three of those losses haven't been especially close, including a 91-72 defeat April 1 that Erik Spoelstra and his team credit for inspiring some serious self-reflection.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The Bostonians have posed some brilliant questions for its foe with Garnett and Rondo, but Team Smoke Machine has had enough answers even while not playing the kind of game it prefers. Miami had just 10 fast break points in the opener and 18 in Game 2, but it produced on 13-of-14 break chances. Much, maybe too much, is being made of the officiating, with the Celtics’ five technicals on Monday and their 33 fouls to Miami’s 18 on Wednesday. There can be no question there are some legitimate beefs, but you should know also that the alleged beneficiary wasn’t pleased with all the whistles either. And while some calls were critical, there are larger issues that determined the outcomes. They are losing because the Heat are more athletic and have two players the Celtics can’t guard if they get into anything resembling an isolation, and none of that is going to change before this evening’s tipoff. ... Tonight the Celtics will be helped along by familiarity with the surroundings and an emotional lift from a fandom that can get loud without being prompted. But winning will require more than they offered in Florida, which could be tough to pull off unless the Heat got caught up in that wild Boston nightlife.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: For the past few days, Phil Jackson was interested in the possibility of joining the Magic's front office. Then, late Thursday afternoon, Jackson bowed out. Magic CEO Alex Martins was formally presented on Wednesday with a scenario involving Jackson by Sam Vincent, who played for the Magic and Jackson. "It drew some interest from Phil," Vincent said. "But in the end, Phil decided to go with another opportunity." Jackson is apparently headed back to the NBA in some capacity, but he pulled out here before Martins had a chance to run it by owner Rich DeVos. Martins learned of Jackson's exit Thursday, but would not comment. "Not because of this specific situation, but because I have been consistent during the search that I won't comment on specific candidates," Martins said in an e-mail. "I stand by my statement that we will put a premium on searching for Championship experience in the positions within in our search."

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: As early as next week, the Hawks will make an announcement on the status of Rick Sund. Maybe he comes back as general manager. Maybe he comes back as team president. Maybe he comes back as consultant, spiritual adviser, GM Emeritus and VP of Deflecting Blame for the Joe Johnson Contract. Doesn’t really matter what he decides. It’s a problem. Sund is considering retirement. Do you know what some say when an athlete is considering retirement? He already has checked out. The same belief should apply to coaches and team executives. In all likelihood, no matter what Sund chooses to do, he will remain with the Hawks through the draft. He still has the downtown office on Marietta Street. He will attend an NBA draft combine this weekend. He will be the Hawks’ executive talking to other general managers about players who potentially might be available in trade. Sund goes into this Hawks’ offseason as both a possible lame duck and their primary makeover artist — a bad combination.